The original story of how I got interested in this stuff is that when I was 13 years old, a few months after my mother had died, I saw this made-for-TV movie called ┐Kill Me If You Can┐ and it was based on the case of Caryl Chessman, who was on death row in California for 12 years and was ultimately executed in 1960.
And Alan Alda, who was my hero from MASH, played Caryl Chessman, and it was just a very powerful movie, for a bunch of reasons. Partly because it was a very compelling story, partly because it was Alan Alda, partly because my mother had just died and what it means to kill someone was really very much in my mind and in my heart. So I saw this movie and I got really interested in the death penalty.
And Chessman had actually written a number of books when he was on death row. He was not your typical death row inmate and so I somehow found his books and read them, and did a bunch of research on his story and wrote a paper about him in high school.
And when I came to college, really the thing that I most wanted to do was I had seen that Harvard had a kind of volunteer program where you could actually go into prisons and do volunteer work with prisoners, and that was what I wanted to do. So that was the first thing I signed up for, and for my first three years of college, I did that - I volunteered at Framingham - that's the state's women's prison.
And learned a ton... I had been very na´ve in many, many ways, unsurprisingly. My whole idea that almost everyone in prison is innocent, they all just had bad public defenders - I discovered, well, that's probably not the case.
But nonetheless, I felt that seeing it almost first hand, that the way they were treated in prison - whether they had in fact committed the crime or not - that the way people were treated was just not the way that I thought any human being should be treated.